As often happens, those who have developed the concept and those who have generalized it are not one and the same. It seems that the term « intrapreneurship » was first used in 1975, by the founders of the consulting agency Foresight (Sweden), who then created the School of Intrapreneurs (Sven Atterhed, Lennart Boksjö and Gustaf Delin). Yet, history will record that Gifford and Elisabeth Pinchot are behind this concept, most certainly because of the great impact their book Intrapreneuring: why you don’t have to leave the corporation to become an entrepreneur (1985) had.
#1. Come to work each day, willing to be fired
Once you have decided to launch yourself into an intrapreneurship adventure, you must be ready to lose your job. You need to be brave and have strong convictions, otherwise you won’t be able to manage the pressure in the long run. But why would you be afraid? Because starting a new business in a very strict framework is always a hassle and the people in charge are always afraid of risk. And you are taking a risk.
If you are an entrepreneur at heart, at some point, you will have an issue with this unchanging system – which throws a spanner in the works – and it will very likely trigger your desire to leave. Nothing will change this ; not even all those perks that you have benefited from for ages.
#2. Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream
This commandment is quite difficult to implement, especially in countries where the hierarchical system is so rooted in people’s habits that they would never even dare consider circumventing orders, even minor ones. It would not even cross their mind for a second. Discipline has been so well ingrained in their behaviors that it requires a lot from them to step away from it. Companies hardly never consider their people’s aspirations. Nonetheless, some are starting to understand what a richness those projects can be. And it’s especially the case when both the employee’s and the company’s goals are meeting.
But this commandment also acts as a warning; “do not lose your way” ; “keep on believing”… And why is that so important ? Because the will shall be incredibly strong to go against the crowd. The notion of sense is highly influential. Bureaucracies, often organized in silo, generate so much nonsense that it pushes toward the Hack (i.e. circumventing the hierarchy, bending the rules..).
#3. Do any job needed to make your project work, regardless of your job description
Just because it is not written in your job specification, doesn’t mean you must not do it. Quite the opposite actually. We are taking a step closer to what defines a true Maker: someone who doesn’t strictly respect the framework of his job; someone who goes beyond his tasks description. Intrapreneurs are, in a way, makers, because they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty.
For instance, according to your task description, you’re only supposed to be writing code, but you really need to talk to this client… never mind that there are people in charge of this within the company… you just go and do it. In fast-changing-industries, your job is not carved in stone ; you need to be quick to adapt and answer the opportunities and threats that may occur.
Big companies wishing to transform actually forget this key point : renewing the way you conceive your job desk can proved to be as important as anything else.
#4. Find people to help you
One of the core basis of the makers and hacker movement is that it relies on collaboration. Alone, you will never be as strong as when part of a collective because two minds are always better than one.
In order to carry on your project, you need to build this community. Today’s tools are perfect for such a task: with the rise of social networks (Linkedin, Twitter…), internal or external, it is now easy to communicate and federate people around a project. You will also discover that the process of hiring people, especially in big corporations, is an ordeal as well. The better you get at pitching your idea, the easier it gets to seduce people into joining you. However, should it not work, you will have to challenge the way you tackle the task. Test and Learn is, after all, one of the best way to move on and improve.
#5. Follow your intuition about the people you choose, and work only with the best
Following up with the previous commandment – while looking for people to join your project – you must use your intuition to pick and choose. You can’t work with everyone and you sure as hell can’t get on well with everyone. But it counts. Many people would argue that you don’t necessarily need to get on well with your work mate. Sure. But for something as personal and « outlawed » you need to start your project on solid ground and it starts with people.
Intuition can be a great tool, provided you have a solid knowledge and you’ve mastered the subject beforehand. Intuition without any ground can prove to be a disaster. So, remember, follow your intuition as long as you are in the right context. Of course errors happen but nothing is fixed forever, and you still can give someone another chance.
But do you have time ?
#6. Work underground as long as you can – publicity triggers the corporate immune mechanism
Indeed, time is of consequence. No sooner has your project been unveiled than it will trigger the corporate immune mechanism. Meaning, as long as you can work underground, you’re « safe », especially during the first stages of the project development. This practice is also known as Bootlegging in Business. It has had such a strong resonance that it had been formalized in a publication in 1963 ( David A. Schon) (1).
Big companies usually have issues dealing with the management of any idea or any other initiative that would be against the corporate culture. Working underground is a way to circumvent this biologic answer.
The key moment for any intrapreneur is to assess the moment when he/she won’t be able to work inconspicuously anymore, for, the project will have to resurface at some point and anchor itself in the business reality. Don’t be so cocky as to believe you will be able to develop everything behind closed doors. You will need to find a sponsor, allies and a set of strong arguments to defend your stance.
And yet, some questions are still left unanswered : do I unveil my project when I’ve already sold it ? Do I need to make all this work official to be able to hire ?…
#7. Never bet on a race unless you are running in it
To be an intrapreneur is to learn how to deal with priority gaps; how to juggle your underground tasks and your official ones. Don’t wait for your company to finally implement a new official customer approach to create your support or sell your new product. Anyway, even if it was released in time, you probably would be the last to be informed.
You can also understand this commandment for another point of view: you must not lean on hypothetical assets and focus on what is available now. Focus on the present, not on the future. Now is what matters.
It’s only when you are racing that you can bet on the results as you are the only one aware of your project priorities.
#8. Remember it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission
You finally had this great idea that could boost your company… The only issue ? Your superior would never agree. The solution? Start developing it underground (cf #6) and then, when comes the time, ask for forgiveness (if needed). If you decide to wait for the bureaucracy to give you the green light on such an unfathomable project (for them) you are completely kidding yourself. In big corporation, you’re often being told « no ». More often than not. Not telling anyone about it – outside of your circle – will be the only way to get things done.
And yet, be careful, because you are responsible for your project, and it is not always beneficial pour your firm… you’ve got to own it till the end and consider the risk level of your every actions.
#9. Be true to your goals, but realistic about the way to achieve them
As much as some invest way too much means to reach minor goals, some others are adopting a reversed strategy and don’t invest as much as they should. Consequently, this commandment is a universal advice: it can be directed at a project manager, an entrepreneur… Realistically speaking you don’t want to engage too many resources (financial, human, time…) in a project that will never come to life or, will be left on a shelf, gathering dust.
Nowadays, and with the rise of new methods (Lean UX, Lean Start up, Effectuation…) anyone – as long as they can implement them correctly – hold the cards to function in a sensible manner. The added value of those techniques is that they incorporate test phases, which enable you to test the feasibility of your project at key moments, thus, assessing the risk level and the financial losses associated.
#10. Honor your sponsors
As is often the case, a project can mobilize an awful lot of effort, from many people. No matter the outcome, you must honor your contributors. Otherwise, you risk losing your community little by little. Especially since their contribution is outside of their official scope. They are not required to help you. And yet they do.
But what is Honoring ? We believe it is to 1) Understand your team members’ purposes 2) Thanking them appropriately.
Indeed, they didn’t do it strictly out of the goodness of their hearts. We are all looking to reap the rewards of our work. For some, it is strictly about helping someone they care for ; for some other it is a mean to an end (get a career jump for example). Some could be considered good reasons, the other bad ones. But you nonetheless need to keep in mind that thanking and honoring your supporters is an essential step to ensure your project sustainability.
As it has probably not escaped your notice, these 10 commandments strongly resonate with current approaches in management, such as the corporate hacking.
Some corporate rules are losing their legitimacy and are being hacked and circumvented in a context of innovation (without framework). What’s puzzling is that Gifford willingly censored himself in an edited version of his book in 2000, with only 6 commandments out of 10 (and much less radical). Maybe it was easier to take his responsibilities when he was still a consultant…
(1) Schon, D.A., 1963, Champion for Radical New Inventions, in Harvard Business Review, March/April